Archive for August, 2018


why a new view on human nature?

Everybody has moments of thought and musing, asking himself: Who am I? What is all about? Where do we come from and where we are going to? Big Questions. People are entitled to answers; they need firm ground under their mental feet. Especially young people need answers in order to establish their identity. Those who have access to big money, without a shared Story no longer feel that they have anything to do with someone else. Big Questions are philosophical stuff. It ought to be the core business of philosophers to generate those answers.

However, today’s philosophers remain silent. When it comes to Big Questions, they don’t offer relevant answers. Philosophical schooling didn’t include any actual study of human nature. This is a consequence of the many centuries when it was the privilege of the churches to define human identity from the pulpit. When in the past philosophers tried to formulate a more scientific alternative, they skated on thin ice: it could be dangerous to speculate in a way that deviated from the ecclesiastic doctrine.

When in the end the churches lost their grip on people’s minds, philosophy just wandered into the desert of postmodernism, with its pessimistic and relativistic view on knowledge as being prejudiced, culturally and gender-biased. And … with a phobia for Big Stories. Unaware that it had been the new economy of the free market that had put an end to the oppressive Great Stories of history and had brought the free West into a new situation, that of consumerism. But that consumers were still people and so needed a bearing story to live together well.

This is why you still don’t know how humans became humans from apes and what is the essence of our human nature. But we are sure that sooner or later, with or without the help of humanosophy, philosophy will rediscover itself and remember the commission that the patriarch Kant at the end of his life had given to philosophy: mapping man.

Bookstores offer many good books about human evolution. The internet has the Smithsonian Human Origins Project[1], and much more. They all tell the same story about human origins. Wouldn’t that be enough for us?

These sources are nice indeed, but too limited in scope[2] to generate the answers for the Big Questions. They tell us what kind of fossils and stone tools have been found from various periods in human history. They tell us about the evolutionary development of the hominid species, from australopiths till Homo sapiens. They tell us about the increasing size of brains (based on researching humanoid fossil skulls) but they don’t ask themselves what was going on inside that skulls. They don’t ask why our ancestors started making stone tools, while the ancestors of other species did not. Paleos offer no answers on questions such as: What made those apes into humans? They don’t have a coherent story of what made the behavioral evolution of our earliest australopithic ancestors deviate from the behavioral patterns of all other species. So that even today many people think that we were conjured up on Earth by a Higher Power.

The scientific approach most close to the humanosophic approach is Evolutionary psychology (EP). Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is “the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments”. The EP approach is increasingly influential in the general field of psychology and according to Steven Pinker, one of the most important adepts[3], EP may become foundational to the entire field. But even Pinker’s approach remains that of a linguist, in simply assuming that our species developed from other ape-men by a blind variation-selection-reproduction mechanism, like in all living species. Of course basically they are right. But the course of events that played a role in this physical, behavioral an mental evolution of mankind can be told far more specifically, as we hope to prove here.

If we google “what made us into humans?”, we will find mainly articles that describe some consequences of early human development, instead of searching for the root causes of that development[4]. For example, a popular explanation is “we became humans because we developed ever larger brains”. But it is evidently a two-ways effect: larger brains can just as well have been the consequence of changing behavior, as a cause. As an explanation by itself this is remains unsatisfactory, because it still does not answer the question what triggered the development.

Where did this innovative behavior of our ancestors (making stone tools, using fire, and so on) come from, and why didn’t the other apes do those things? Why religion, why agriculture, why civilization, why God?

If we try to really answer that question, we need to combine very different sources – not just paleo-anthropologic sources from millions of years ago. One can also infer a lot from our behavior of today: people are walking archives. Especially babies and their mothers. Typical male or female behavior implies inclinations and reactions that are only explicable from our prehistoric past.

Another source today are the most ‘primitive’ populations, either those few that still exist, or those that became extinct over the last centuries, but were described by anthropologists, missionaries, or other travelers.

The third source are our next of kin: the bonobos and the chimpanzees. They can serve as a source because basically, these highly evolved apes are group animals just like we ourselves once were and still are. Consequently we share several characteristics of our behavior, such as compassion and altruism, with these apes.

Combined with insights based on paleo-anthropologic research, a global picture arises of our past and of the crucial driving force behind human development.

It yields a story, a ‘creation story’ that can finally be the western alternative to the backward Adam and Eva story that has not been challenged by science so far and thus retains its control in large parts of mankind.

As we will see, the most important of these driving forces was the invention of enriching our group animal communication with names for things.

It is important to realize what having names for things does with an animal. It does five things and we will list them for you. This ability to use symbolic language made our ancestors to a linguistic species. Acquiring this communication tool, new in the animal world, enabled our species to exchange individual ingenuity, ideas, skills and goods.

We will try to make it plausible when this happened in our cultural evolution and that it must have been a female expression.

do we need a shared account of human nature?

Humanity longs for a coherent, science-based, universally valid creation story in the form of a philosophical project that only ends when mankind ends. After all, until then science will never stop.

One of the famous public intellectuals of the past decennia has been the late Tony Judt, British-American historian. In the last year of his life, imprisoned in the evermore narrow cocoon of the illness ALS, he dictated Ill fares the land (2010). He expounded that for the past thirty years, our Western societies have been frittering away post-war achievements such as reducing the inequality between poor and rich through welfare facilities and social opportunities for everyone. As the cause of this, he saw the loss of a common narrative as the foundation of everybody’s decisions and conscience.

Judt had not yet a solution to offer, but one could feel his anxiety and commitment.

We try to contribute what he was missing in Part One, and in Part Two a scenario according to which the common narrative can be introduced without imposing it on anyone.

So here it comes: the humanosophic mapping of

human nature.

Yes, in the Introduction. Because it is an important notion in both Part one and in Part Two while it does not fit organically in either.

We see human nature as a ‘three stage rocket’. And it should be noted that each of these stages is still active in all of us.

The first stage (mode, state of mind, tendency, drive, instinct) we share with all living creatures, even with bacteria and plants. It is the individual drive to take as much energy as possible from the environment (nearly all energy origins from the Sun) to stay alive and procreate. It is this self-centered survival drive, this me-myself-and-I behavior, that still gets the upper hand in real or imagined panic situations.
[It is notable that the situation of power or big money throws us back in this most primitive mode, being a situation contrary to our third stage, so of real or imagined panic.]

The second stage: our ancestors were group animals such as elephants, hyenas, dolphins and apes. For this second stage we especially have to look to the bonobos and chimpanzees: our next of kin.

In the permanent survival fight between their groups, chimpanzees have an individual interest in being a member of the strongest group. To keep their group strong, they must minimize the internal fights. When two chimpanzee males do have a fight, then afterwards they try desperately to reconcile.

Bonobos on the other hand use sex for minimizing internal group tensions.

So these group animals (to which also humans belong) are driven by two contradictory impulses: egoism (the me-myself-and-I drive), and altruism (you have more chances to survive and to pass on your DNA in an harmonious group, so you must curb your egoism).

These two impulses, being at right angles to each other, would condemn individuals to a paralyzing indecision if they did not have a calming mechanism in their culture: rules for social intercourse, manners, ‘norms and values’, the characteristics Frans de Waal has described so well in his Good Natured (1996).

This ‘norms and values culture’ does not hamper aggression and violence against any other groups. In overpopulation situation other groups are food competitors, so enemies.

This mode, instinct, is still working in us as xenophobia (aversion to people of other color, language, belief, sexual orientation, whatsoever, and populists like to call on it.

Now the third stage.

Chimpanzees and bonobos, our ‘next of kin’, never lost their rain forest environment.
Our ancestral ape ancestors, however, lost their rainforest and ended up in a savannah environment. In those harsh environments, groups with harmony flourished more than quarreling groups. After thousands of generations, our species built a third stage on our group nature: inclination to harmony as an innate tendency. Purely as the result of natural selection.

For humans, harmony is good. We still long for harmony, we still feel that being kind to each other is the most livable basis for society. However, we still are products of a whole evolution of life. So all three drives are working in us, and it depends on circumstances (such as upbringing, living environment, faith) which of the three tendencies prevails in our behavior and it depends of the situation in which we are in which mode we end up.

Since we became AMHs[5] (the last 100.000 years after 5 million years of being gatherer-scavenger/hunters) this basic inclination to harmony got already somewhat frustrated when larger groups of 150-200 individuals evolved. It got really frustrated when we became horticulturalists, with all the warfare and machismo that this recent lifestyle implied. The lowest point was reached in the class-based societies since 5000 years ago, with slavery, mass cruelties and despotism.

But the innate longing for harmony is like a cork: jumping op wherever it gets a chance. The unique quality of humanity is that we are capable of reflection. This capability may be seen as a further refining step on the path of extracting energy.

Since the lowest point we see a slow but steady decline in warfare.

Our recent Western free market economy can only flourish with democracy and harmony, and it is globalizing, slow but steady. It is the end of history of the lowest point since 5000 ya and the beginning of the way back to harmony.

People think in accordance with their prevailing economy.

Gatherers/hunters (GHs) stand accepting in life, taking things it as it comes.

Food growers (AGRs) such as horticulturists and farmers feel themselves in control of nature and want to effectuate it by magic and shamanism. Later farmers live in a society dominated by despots and think in accordance with their imposed religion.

Free market consumers think freely. Our humanosophy is a result of free market thinking. But consumers remain people and are longing for one globalizing and meaningful human story, for dancing/singing in harmony just as our ancestors.

So are Wrangham & Peterson wrong with their Demonic Males? Not wrong, but biased and overlooking the long-long evolutionary human history of low population density that repeatedly brought us to the verge of extinction.
Wrangham & Peterson and most of other mainstream paleos see only ‘stage’ 1 and 2 as human nature. They are obviously ignorant of the peaceful nature of our longtime pure gathering-hunting existence in which stage 3 of our human nature nestled in our genome. They are unaware of the more recent effects of overpopulation, of male domination, of breed as rabbits. Mainstream anthropologists are still unfamiliar with the difference between how GHs live and how AGRs live.

  2. One only has to look at this conventional image, which depicts only iconic men. Even white men. Our ancestors would be surprised!
  3. Steven Pinker The Language instinct (1994) , How the Mind Works (1997), Language as a Window to Human Nature (2007), Stuff of Thought(2007)
  4. Here are ten of the most popular explanations from such a Google search:1. turning-over genes much faster than chimps and other mammals2. evolutionary changes in the regulation of a gene implicated in perception, behavior, and memory3. the diet4. cooking (Wrangham) (luckily most of the hits!)5. dogs and other pets (anthropologist Pat Shipman)

    6. the plasticity of our brains

    7. starch (Perry, Dominy, e.a.)

    8. animals (ecologist Paul Shephard)

    9. business innovation (Mat Ridley)

    10 schizophrenia (D.F. Morrobin)

  5. Anatomic Modern Humans; ‘sapiens’, the Linnaeus (1707-1778) name for all people who populate Earth today, has become popular again thanks to the popularity of the backward book of Harari …. It suggests that our ancestors, the Early People, would not have been sapiens


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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.